Whether and how long it takes coronaviruses to evade host immunity is an important question. To study coronavirus antibody escape, Eguia et al. studied human serum samples from the 1980s and 1990s and their ability to neutralize the common cold coronavirus 229E. They assessed the ability of the samples to neutralize viruses pseudotyped with spike from five 229E strains from different time points, ranging from 1986 to 2016. Sera that potently neutralized viruses with concomitant spikes showed a substantial drop in neutralization titres for later viruses or even complete escape, likely due to divergence of the receptor-binding domain. On average, 10 years of ‘future’ virus evolution led to a fourfold drop in neutralization titres. By contrast, sera collected in 2020 neutralized the ‘old’ viruses, at least if the sample came from an adult. Children’s sera showed some neutralization of previous strains but not as far back as adult sera.
Eguia, R. T. et al. A human coronavirus evolves antigenically to escape antibody immunity. PLOS Pathog. 17, e1009453 (2021)
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Hofer, U. Blast from the past for coronavirus immunity. Nat Rev Microbiol 19, 344 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-021-00566-z